Conflicting Meta-analyses Put 'Intellectual Conflicts of Interest' Front and Center

Maurie Markman, MD


October 24, 2018

Hello. I'm Dr Maurie Markman from Cancer Treatment Centers of America in Philadelphia. I wanted to briefly discuss a very interesting commentary, just published in the September 21 issue of the journal Science, called "The Metawars."[1] Meta-analyses are supposed to end scientific debates; however, they often only cause more controversy.

It's a very interesting article and quite timely, as the oncology community and the oncology research community have been shocked with serious claims of scientific misconduct, including financial issues, questions of individuals stealing others' ideas, and questions of plagiarism. It's a complex time.

This particular article highlights a conflict of interest that is often not discussed that needs to be discussed more frequently, which the author refers to as intellectual conflicts of interest. The author commented on the fact that meta-analyses, in particular, which are supposed to be at the highest level of evidence, have been generated for the specific purpose of communicating a certain point of view. Therefore, based on the articles that are selected for inclusion and the perspective, some meta-analyses might be far from rigorous, objective science.

The point to be made here is that there are multiple kinds of potential conflicts of interest that might occur. Obviously, financial conflicts of interest are the most prominent, but in this case, we are talking about intellectual conflicts of interest. Of course, this can include issues of plagiarism, individuals stealing ideas—a grant reviewer or a journal article reviewer may take ideas for their own research—and, certainly, concerns about potential patents.

It is really important to highlight that we all need to be very vigilant in our transparency—this is the most important word to say in this commentary. We need to be open and honest about our ideas and where they came from. If there are biases or potential biases, we need to acknowledge them, highlight them, and ultimately let the reviewer of the paper or the grant evaluate the science as objectively as possible, knowing, for example, where that individual author comes from—not only groups they've worked with, but also ideas they've generated and companies they've worked with.

Scientists must keep this transparency front and center so that potential conflicts of interest don't become real conflicts of interest, ultimately hurting scientific investigation and diminishing the trust that the public absolutely must have in science in general and in cancer science in particular.

Thank you for your attention.


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